Yesterday (Friday) I took off for the day to the wilderness with a pal to check out the bird migration scene and to try to locate a dump way out of the city which I was told is an eagle magnet. I had received directions from a local birder and also checked out the site on Google Earth so I was fairly confident of finding it.
It was zero deg C when we left the city just after dawn – had to scrape ice off the screen. That’s the first time this year. We stopped at our usual locations en route and found the dump mid-morning on a sunny but blustery day. The east wind kept the temperatures down although a nearby service station display recorded 14degC. Wind chill put paid to that though. Recent rainy days meant that the dust level was low although the roads and land were reasonably dry.
The dump is adjacent to a waterway – we call it a canal but in truth it is more of a flowing river taking treated waste water from Almaty to a system of lakes 60-70km from the city to the north in the steppes, the largest of which is the ornithological-rich Sorbulak Lake.
The canal itself yielded Little Grebes, Black-headed Gulls, Barn Swallows, Turkestan Shrike, Pine Buntings, Tree Sparrows and the surrounding fields were full of Starlings, Jackdaws and 100s of Rooks. The dump itself to the SE is quite large and there were Steppe Eagles everywhere, on the dump and in the sky. As we arrived, we disturbed the eagles nearest to the road running alongside the canal and I counted 34 eagles in the sky above us at that stage, with more on the dump further away. I am told that in winter wintering Steppe Eagles are joined by Eastern Imperial Eagles, which I haven’t seen for a few years, so looking forward to that.
Other raptors were 4 Black (Black-eared) Kites, a female Hen (Northern) Harrier and this Buzzard which I think is a darker Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo Rufinus) but some think is Eastern Buzzard Buteo buteo Japonicus. Aren’t Buzzards a challenge? On the road also saw two soaring Booted Eagles, a first for Kazakhstan for me – last seen in Tunisia.
The second highlight of the day was the arrival in the last 8 days of wildfowl from further north. I was hopeful of this as temperatures had plummeted recently and I wasn’t disappointed with a delightful variety on show at Sorbulak with a few on the Lesser Lakes too. The lesser lakes are all full now and Sorbulak itself is re-filling but not yet significantly. The ducks are still a long way off and a scope was essential, even thought the wind made it difficult and digiscoping photography almost impossible because of shake. And to think that just 2 months ago the temperatures were so high that we had to abandon our birding for the day – oh, for a bit of breeze then.
Still most numerous right now are Mallards, some males still in eclipse and others in proud new plumage, and females outnumber males by a high proportion. Mallards were on the shoreline and in flotillas bobbing over the choppy water. Other shoreline ducks were Common (Green-winged) Teal and Northern Pintails in winter plumage. Out on the water in flocks of varying sizes were Gadwall, Common Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, a small flock of Ferruginous Ducks, lots of Tufted Ducks and at least one Goldeneye. And it will only get better! Can’t wait to get out there again next week, weather permitting. Hoping for calmer weather so that I can get some shots. Hoping too that the shoreline is nearer for access.
The shoreline also gave up a flock of over 100 Ruddy Shelducks (there will be hundreds later), 27 Whooper Swans and 3 Mute Swans.
Waders had all but disappeared with a few Little Stints remaining, a large flock of Lapwings in the distance and Common Ringed Plovers passing through.
Bird list for yesterday at all sites that we visited:
Common Buzzard (I include japonicus in the category)
Common Ringed Plover
Oriental Turtle Dove
59 – a good tally for a great day.